Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has received its first order for the larger Falcon V version of its private-venture satellite launcher. Bigelow Aerospace has placed a deposit on a commercial launch from Vandenberg AFB, California in November 2005, carrying a prototype inflatable space structure called Genesis Pathfinder.

Designed to carry 4,500kg (9,900lb) into low-Earth orbit, the Falcon V is a five-engined version of SpaceX's first booster. The single-engined, 450kg-payload Falcon I is now scheduled for its delayed maiden flight late this year, carrying an experimental military satellite, the US Department of Defense's TacSat-1, from Vandenberg.

El Segundo, California-based SpaceX, privately funded by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, says it has overcome the final major development issue with its Merlin liquid oxygen/kerosene engine, after a third turbopump impeller design eliminated vibration and increased cavitation margin.

Problems with the flight termination receiver have also been solved, involving "modest additional expenditure and time", says SpaceX. US Air Force range safety has allowed SpaceX to use thrust termination rather than explosive termination, reducing the launch price from $6 million to $5.9 million, plus range costs. The Falcon V is marketed at $12 million per launch.

Bigelow Aerospace has awarded Russian commercial launch company Kosmotras a contract for the launch of six satellites on Dnepr boosters between 2006 and 2008.


Source: Flight International